According to the latest health survey, more than 20 million American adults suffer from sleep apnea with hundreds of millions more cases presenting around the world. While this sleep disorder is more prevalent amongst men, many women suffer from it too and the symptoms tend to differ between the genders. What is constant is that the debilitating health consequences of sleep apnea are equally as serious and are contributing to an unhealthier and heavier society.

The Gender Sleep Differences

Men and women inherently display different sleep patterns, which is largely a result of the different cocktail of chemicals our bodies produce, as well as some key anatomical differences:
  • Women require deep sleep more than men,
  • Women are more likely to suffer from daytime fatigue, depression and insomnia,
  • Women tend to wake up and go to bed earlier than men,
  • Women tend to have a slightly shorter circadian cycle than men,
  • Men tend to deal with sleep deprivation differently to women.
One thing that doesn’t differ is that both genders snore, which is caused by relaxing throat muscles and the subsequent slight obstruction of the airway by the soft tissues. Snoring is not an unhealthy habit – although your bed partner will certainly disagree – but consistent, loud snoring and choking, gasping, snorting sounds at night may be a strong indicator that you have sleep apnea.

How Sleep Apnea Affects Women Versus Men

In 2013, researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles found that men are far more likely (twice as likely) to have obstructive sleep apnea than women. Strong evidence was also found that female sufferers of sleep apnea tend to be more affected in the brain regions that are responsible for decision-making and moods, which may account for the following observations:
  • Women with sleep apnea often complain of depression, fatigue and anxiety.
  • Men with sleep apnea complain more of loud snoring, snorting or choking themselves awake and gasping for air.
While women with sleep apnea also commonly snore, it’s the above-mentioned symptoms that are far more striking than the traditional symptoms of sleep apnea. And this is where the problems for women come in…

Sleep Apnea Often Goes Undiagnosed in Women

Because women don’t often exhibit the telltale and surefire symptoms of sleep apnea, they are often diagnosed with psychological problems like depression, anxiety and hypochondria instead, or medical problems like hypertension and fatigue. This may account for the fact that – as was previously mentioned – twice as many men are diagnosed with this sleep disorder than women. It could be that the prevalence of sleep apnea amongst the genders is the same, but because men tend to exhibit more obvious symptoms, it is more often diagnosed. This is a crucial issue to address because women with sleep apnea are just as at risk of the health consequences as men and often present with additional health problems, like high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.

The Need for Individualized Sleep Apnea Diagnosis and Treatment

Men and women of all ages can suffer from sleep apnea, even children, and so the treatment decided upon will vary according to your particular diagnosis and the severity of your condition. There are also different kinds and causes of sleep apnea, so all of these concerns need to be taken into account by your treating physician or dentist. What’s important for the patient is to seek help if you think you, your partner or child may have sleep apnea, because the consequences of this condition are debilitating and lead to a much lower quality of life.